The leader of North Cyprus Mustafa Akinci leaves favorite Sunday to win a new mandate at the head of this self-proclaimed Republic against the protege of Ankara Ersin Tatar, a second round in the shadow of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Outgoing “President” of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey, Mr. Akinci came in second in the first round with nearly 30% of the vote, behind Mr. Tatar (over 32% ). But he should, except surprise, win against the outgoing “Prime Minister” thanks to the support of Tufan Erhurman, who came third last Sunday.
The 738 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and will close at 6 p.m. local time. Some 199,000 people are called to vote out of more than 300,000 inhabitants in the TRNC.
The election comes against a backdrop of strong tensions around the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean between Ankara and Athens, the Republic of Cyprus’s main ally – the only one recognized by the international community and a member of the European Union since 2004 – which exercises its authority over the southern two-thirds of the divided island.
After drilling off North Cyprus, the return this week of a Turkish exploration vessel to waters claimed by Greece stirred discord and led to condemnation by EU leaders on Friday of “provocations” of Turkey, threatened with sanctions.
Having long worked for rapprochement with the Greek Cypriots, Mr. Akinci maintains stormy relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This 72-year-old social democrat, who defends the reunification of Cyprus in the form of a federal state, has never hidden his intention to loosen ties with Ankara. Mr. Tatar, a 60-year-old nationalist, defends a two-state solution.
” Only solution “
“The only good solution is the solution with a federal state”, affirms Said Kenan at the exit of a polling station. Boasting the “strategic” geographical location of the island, this 76-year-old cardiologist explains that Cyprus could get by on its own thanks to hydrocarbons, which attract so many countries “around Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots”.
Seeing Cyprus as a major piece in its strategy to defend its interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara is closely following the ballot in the northern third of the island and has stepped up maneuvers to boost Mr Tatar’s campaign.
Ceremony with great fanfare to inaugurate an underwater aqueduct between North Cyprus and Turkey or the partial reopening of a former renowned seaside resort, abandoned since its closure by the Turkish army after the partition of the island, have sparked accusations of interference by Turkey in the election and angered many Turkish Cypriots, Mr. Akinci in the lead.
“Turkish Cypriots are not happy to be seen as dependent on another and to be endlessly reprimanded and despised,” said Umut Bozkurt, political scientist at the University of the Eastern Mediterranean in Northern Cyprus.
” Dignity “
According to the researcher, Ankara’s alleged interference turned the ballot into a referendum on their “dignity” for many Turkish Cypriots.
“Peace, because we no longer want to be puppets in our country,” said Ahmet, a Turkish Cypriot, on Twitter, using the hashtag which has gone viral “Peace, because”.
“The results of the first round show that a considerable part of the voters want to free themselves from the influence of Turkey and want reunification,” said Bozkurt.
But displaying an independent line vis-à-vis Ankara is not easy as the TRNC has been under the economic control of Turkey since its creation in 1983.
The economic crisis, amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, did not help anything and it was Ankara which financed the construction of a hospital with around one hundred TRNC beds to cope with it.
Cyprus gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, but Turkish troops invaded the northern third of the island in 1974 in reaction to a coup attempt to reattach the island to Greece.
When he came to power in 2015, Akinci had rekindled hopes that the peace talks would be successful by advocating a federal state, but the last official negotiations failed in 2017.
“Difficulties await him on this subject if he is elected”, anticipates Mrs Bozkurt. “Ankara now seems to prefer a hard line that excludes a federation in Cyprus. “